Vinyl Corner : Shintaro Quintet ‘Evolution’

Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. For the latest instalment in the series, we’re giving our time over to a recent reissue from one of Vinyl Corner’s favourite labels, the venerable BBE Records.

The Music:

If jazz is any one thing – and, of course, it’s ultimately a fascinating conglomeration of a hundred different ideas – then it’s a genre of malleability; perhaps more so than any other. Within jazz’s more freeform reserves, rulebooks are – and have long been – thrown out of the proverbial window with such absolute abandon that the results can veer wildly in one direction or another, even within the parameters of any given subgenre under jazz’s broad umbrella. Just as the greatest groups and bandleaders have found innovative ways of carving out their own singular identities within jazz music at large, so too have the vibrant movements within certain countries during specific time periods stood out amongst the crowd by virtue of a certain shared aesthetic. Japan’s jazz movement remains lively even to this day but, in the estimation of many a hardened collector, their country’s halcyon days for jazz stretched between the late ’60s and the early to mid ’80s. It isn’t difficult to see why so many feels this way: that roughly decade-and-a-half stretch of time bore witness to a startling proliferation of innovative, daring bands who existed outside of – and found themselves unaffected by – the broader trends which could be heard to reverberate throughout Western jazz. Shintaro Quintet’s 1984 collection ‘Evolution’ stands as a prime case in point; released at a time when even Miles Davis had succumbed to the garish allure of synth-pads and gated drums, this markedly – and proudly – old-school sonic document stands as beguiling proof of a certain timelessness heard throughout much Nipponese jazz. Though admittedly not alone in their pursuit of daring, smart contemporary jazz that flirted with elements of the avant-garde, Shintaro Quintet did prove themselves to be one that style’s most talented exponents. Long-fetishised by collectors, ‘Evolution’ finally appears as a reissue courtesy of the UK’s excellent BBE Records.

The Pressing:

Long-time Vinyl Corner readers will know that we’ve featured a good number of releases from BBE in the past, and we’ve never been anything less than thrilled with what we’ve heard. Fortunately – though not unsurprisingly – their reissue of ‘Evolution’ is nothing less than another roaring success. The seventh entry in their now well-established J-Jazz Masterclass Series, this reissue follows that range’s time-tested precedent of spreading the original album – initially released as a single LP – over two discs in pursuit of maximised fidelity. The label has wisely opted to cut this release at 45rpm, thereby furthering the potential for audiophile-grade sound quality. True to that, this is a genuinely impressive release in regard to sound; as those with a more-than-passing familiarity with vintage Japanese jazz will know, that movement’s talent spread far beyond the players themselves. The engineers and producers who facilitated the movement’s myriad albums were similarly adept at their craft and, as a result, it can be difficult to find an album of that milieu that is anything less than consummately recorded. As such, ‘Evolution’ has always been a great sounding album and BBE’s efforts have only enhanced those characteristics. So far so good, then – but what of the pressing itself? Well, it’s good news on that front, as well; as has long been standard practice for BBE, the LPs have been pressed by Germany’s reliably high-grade Pallas pressing plant. Pallas has long been the audiophile’s choice, not least thanks to their almost-unilaterally fantastic quality control. As tends to be the case with titles pressed by Pallas, our example of ‘Evolution’ boasts a low noise floor and fantastically clean surfaces.

The Packaging:

It’s clear, then, that BBE Records have done much to highlight ‘Evolution’s impressive sonics, but it’s also evident that they’ve also put a rare amount of thought into the packaging and presentation of their reissue. As with the previous instalments in their J-Jazz Masterclass Series, ‘Evolution’s cover has been upgraded to a handsome and impressively-manufactured gatefold sleeve, wrought with a bold, thick spine which is enough in itself to ensure that the title will never find itself lost on a busy shelf. The original release bore a curio of sorts – a diagonal Obi strip. For those not yet clued in on such things, Obi strips are slips of paper wrapped around the cover of Japanese LPs, essentially serving the same purpose as hype stickers might on a modern Western release. Long valued by collectors, there has in recent years been a notable upsurge in Western artists appropriating the concept for their own releases; yet, despite this, it is of course a welcome inclusion when a reissue of a Japanese album replicates the genuine Obi found on the original release. That has been done here – and accurately, at that. The unusual diagonal design of the original Obi has been replicated – an impressive feat which serves as testament to BBE’s insistence upon showing utmost respect to the albums they reissue. In addition to that, informative liner notes have been spread across the inner gatefold, further cementing the impression that this reissue is a labour of love on the label’s part.

Final Thoughts:

Based upon the precedent set by the previous instalments in the J-Jazz Masterclass Series, it’s hardly a surprise that Shintaro Quintet’s ‘Evolution’ has been so consummately reissued here – yet it nevertheless bears repeating that BBE Records have done a truly stand-up job in bringing this cult favourite back to life.

Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at martin.leitch@gigsoupmusic.com – it would be great to hear from you!